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Balanced budget headed to Friday’s Sunderland Town Meeting

— For the first time since 2010, townspeople will be asked to vote on a balanced budget.

At the annual Town Meeting Friday, townspeople will be asked to approve a $7,096,551 town operating budget, two historic Community Preservation Act projects and capital projects at the Frontier Regional School. The budget is for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Three years ago, the town had to pass a Proposition 2½ override to make up for a $200,000 shortfall. Since then, the Board of Selectmen has been conservative with its spending to stabilize the budget.

The Town Meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Sunderland Elementary School.

Not only are the finances in the black, the town has an excess levy capacity of $33,000. Of the total $398,527 surplus or “free cash,” the town will use $119,558 in fiscal year 2014. The town has a rule limiting itself to 30 percent of free cash each year.

The proposed town budget is $114,779 or 1.6 percent more than the current year’s budget.

Like most years, the school budget has been center in the budget debate as the Select Board and Finance Committee worked to develop a balanced budget.

The proposed Sunderland Elementary School budget is $2,085,732, which is $34,446 or 1.7 percent more than the current year. The town’s share of the Franklin County Technical School is $198,446 — a decrease of $21,488 or 9.8 percent.

Of the $9,545,088 proposed Frontier Regional School budget, Sunderland is asked to pay $1,687,358 or $36,022 or 2.2 percent more. The budget increase includes $14,561 for a technology director, $5,000 for technology professional development and $23,000 to complete the school’s wireless connectivity, $20,093 for a full-time writing teacher, and $29,611 for a special education nurse.

The proposed school budget increased by $447,832, or 4.92 per­cent, from the current school year. The Frontier Regional School Committee is asking its four feeder towns — Deerfield, Conway, Whately, and Sunderland — to pay 6.65 percent more than they did last year toward the total.

The final school money may change depending on state aid. The Frontier Regional School Committee is also holding a special meeting in the school library tonight at 7 to discuss the proposed budget. On the agenda will be whether they can reduce the budget — a plea made by the select boards of its member towns.

The 24 articles townspeople will consider this year include:

∎ $22,000 in Community Preservation Fund money for the Sunderland Historic Commission to repair and restore the Graves Memorial Library building windows and $20,000 to pay for the town office building restoration project.

∎ $3,900 for a Geographic Information System that would make town property records, maps and permit data available online.

∎ $15,704 to cover the state and town’s share for next year in regards to the state Police Educational Incentive Program or the Quinn Bill. Voters will also consider rescinding its acceptance of the bill — as the Select Board recommends. This year, the state Legislature stopped paying its share of educational benefits for police officers, leaving cities and towns to pick up the tab. Before, the state and municipalities that adopted the legislation evenly split the cost. The 1970 Quinn Bill rewards police with a 10 percent raise from their base salary for an associate’s degree and a 20 percent salary increase for a bachelor’s degree, and 25 percent for a master’s degree. A recent state Supreme Court ruling said cities and towns are not required to fund the state’s portion. The Select Board prefers to negotiate the benefits with the police union for local educational incentives.

∎ 2,121 to pay off the borrowing for the $4.1 million reconstruction and repair of the Sunderland Elementary School in 2003.

∎ $124,050 for proposed capital projects that would include $3,761 to replace the library’ parking lot fence,$3,200 for mobile data terminals, $1,050 for police stun guns, $2,336 for the installation of salt shed siding and $30,000 for pre-engineering for the North Main Street reconstruction project. About $5,401 will be used from last year’s remaining capital funds to pay for project costs.

∎ $35,058 toward capital projects for the Frontier Regional School, which are requested by the School Committee, but not supported by the Select Board, who are expected to recommend only its $17,759 share of the safety and security updates.

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